Poll: Most Americans Oblivious, But Not Uncaring, to Overseas Suffering

“Near-famine, which is affecting 20 million people in Africa and the Middle East, is likely the least reported but most important major issue of our time.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-14-2017

The Trump administration has proposed drastic cuts to humanitarian aid programs in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. (Photo: Gerry & Bonni/Flickr/cc)

The vast majority of Americans are “oblivious” to the fact that more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, according to a recent survey conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

A “staggering” 85 percent of Americans simply don’t know that these nations are facing such dire shortages of food and other necessary resources, IRC discovered.

Lack of awareness, however, does not imply deliberate lack of concern, IRC is quick to observe.

Once Americans are briefed on the relevant facts, the organization notes, “the issue immediately rises to a top global concern.”

IRC goes on to note that “[n]ear-famine, which is affecting 20 million people in Africa and the Middle East, is likely the least reported but most important major issue of our time,” implying that the media is at fault for not keeping such a crucial issue at the center of public discussion.

The survey also found that most Americans favor providing more humanitarian aid, not less, as President Donald Trump has proposed:

Americans want not just more aid, but better aid. At least two-thirds of Americans believe the rules of engagement for the U.S. government on this issue should focus less on ‘obligation,’ and more on the fact that the U.S. and NGOs such as the IRC can lead the way in humanitarian aid reform and evidence-based outcomes. 68% of registered voters agree that foreign aid from wealthy nations like the U.S. is needed now more than ever, especially since it is proven to help prevent disasters that would end up costing more if neglected—like Ebola.

Millennials, the poll found, are particularly concerned about addressing what has been deemed by the United Nations the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

“Millennials see humanitarian aid as a defining issue for their generation (78% concerned), and the United States,” IRC’s report notes. “On nearly every measure tested in the poll, millennials are more concerned than other generations, believe it is a moral obligation for the U.S. to provide assistance, and are most willing to engage.”

IRC’s report comes in the midst of strong indications from the White House that President Donald Trump intends to defy public opinion by attempting to slash rather than bolster humanitarian aid. As the New York Times has reported, the administration is pushing “military might over humanitarian aid.”

Trump’s proposed cuts to food and development programs have deeply alarmed charitable organizations, activists, aid workers, who argue that famines are in large part political crises—and are therefore solvable if the world’s wealthiest nations are willing to commit resources.

“The world’s most powerful leaders must now act to prevent a catastrophe happening on their watch,” Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima recently said.

Bernice Romero, senior director for policy and humanitarian response for Save the Children, told the Los Angeles Times that the White House’s move to cut rather than strengthen humanitarian aid in the face of widespread starvation is “unconscionable and could really have devastating consequences.”

Care USA president Michelle Nunn agreed, concluding: “If enacted, these cuts would result in the wholesale dismantling of America’s humanitarian and development work, increase suffering and make the world a more dangerous place.”

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